Welcome to chapter 28 of Arena of Souls- A Brock Stone Adventure, a serial adventure story in the style of the old pulps. If you’re just joining in, begin here:
Chapter 28: The Mist
A bitter cold enveloped him like a plunge into a frozen lake. This was nothing like the warmth he’d felt when he descended through the mist. It had been an illusion– a trap baited by an otherworldly predator. He struggled to regain his feet, but his limbs were numb. And he was drifting…
A ghostly figure approached. Unable to move, Stone watched as it broke through a column of mist, and gained form. It was his grandfather!
Despite his years, Samuel Stone stood tall, his posture rigid, his eyes brimming with vitality, and his face twisted in a disapproving frown.
“I needed you and you weren’t there.”
“What?” Stone battled the confused thoughts that whirled in his mind. He had to get back to his feet and find Trinity. She was somewhere in the…
Where was she? At work, he supposed. He’d see her this evening. His grandfather paced back and forth across his study, while Stone sat rigid in an uncomfortable chair.
“I thought you were the one person I could count on,” Samuel continued, “but you left, and you didn’t come back.”
“I’m sorry, Grandfather. I had things to do.” But what were those things, exactly? Stone found he couldn’t recall exactly where he’d been and what he’d done since leaving the army. Why hadn’t he come home sooner? He’d had a reason, of that he was certain, but what reason?
“I hope they were important things.” Samuel shook his fist in Stone’s face. “Because now I’m dead!”
“What are you talking about?” Stone asked. But, as he spoke, his grandfather fell to the floor. “Grandfather!” Stone shouted. He dropped to the floor at Samuel’s side and felt for a pulse, but if it was there, it was too faint to detect. “I’ll get you to a hospital.” He doubted his grandfather could hear him, or that he was even alive, but he swept the surprisingly light old man up in his arms and sprinted to the front door.
As he stepped out into the damp, cool air, he felt his burden suddenly grown lighter. He looked down and gasped. Samuel’s body withered before his eyes, and then crumbled to dust. Before Stone could comprehend what had happened, a loud shriek of tires split the air, followed by a resounding crash.
He turned in the direction of the sound and the sight turned his guts to water. His father’s car sat crushed against the bole of an old oak tree. Steam poured from under the hood and climbed upward like columns of mist to join the fog that rolled in off the Potomac.
Stone dashed full-speed toward the site of the accident. He could see two figures slumped forward inside the vehicle– his mother and father! He wanted to call to them, but something held his chest and throat in a vise-like grip.
He reached the car and tried to pull the door open, but the impact had crumpled the front end and the crushing effect sealed the door firmly shut. He ran to the passenger side but found that door similarly wedged shut.
Inside, his mother raised her head and looked at him through glassy eyes. “Brock?” she mouthed.
“I’m going to break the window!” Stone shouted. “Put your head down.”
His mother shook her head. “You’re too late. You should have been here sooner.”
“Mother, put your head down!” Stone drew his fist back to punch the glass, but the car began to change. He stepped back and looked on in amazement as the vehicle, like his grandfather’s body, cracked and began to fall apart. Faintly, he heard his mother call out, “You didn’t come home. Now we’re dead, and Trinity has been taken. Where were you?”
The car crumbled into dust but the last three words hung in the air.
“Where were you?”
Where had he been? And what was that about Trinity being taken? Yes, she had been taken. But that couldn’t be right. He had just gotten home, so how would he know? But somehow, the knowledge was there, inside his head.
He ran toward the house, determined to hop on his motorcycle and head off in search of her, but where would he start? It didn’t matter. He would go off in search of her and trust that the knowledge, which he was now certain lay buried deep in his memory, would return. He had to find her. He had been gone too long, and now his family was dead. So few of the people he loved remained. He wouldn’t fail again. He couldn’t. Guilt and remorse swelled up inside him, so powerful it threatened to overcome him.
As he flew past the window to his grandfather’s study, he stole a glance inside. Something told him that, as foolish as it seemed, the answer lay inside. Had his grandfather known who took Trinity? He ran to the window. He’d only take a moment. He could spare that much. But as he looked around, a dark cloud of despair descended over him. His selfishness had caused all of this and now there was nothing he could do to fix it. His parents and grandfather were dead, and nothing could bring them back from that, and Trinity, vanished without a clue. It was useless. He was useless.
His knees buckled and he hit the ground, unable to rise. His body felt cold and numb, as if he stood on the edge of hypothermia. It didn’t matter anymore. He didn’t matter. He would do the world a great service and lie here until he turned to dust like the people he loved.
The fog rolled in thicker now, turning the world white. Perhaps he was already dead. Somewhere in the distance, he heard faint cries. The voices were familiar. Alex? Moses? Maybe they knew where Trinity was. Perhaps hope remained. With a greater effort than he had ever made in his life, he climbed to his feet and sagged against the windowsill. He’d catch his breath and then go in search of his friends.
His tired eyes drifted to the study. He scanned the desk, the rows of books, the walls; nothing lay there that told him where he could find Trinity. Not the old maps of the world that hung on the far wall. Not the painting of Everest that dominated the space behind his grandfather’s desk.
Something clicked in his mind. Everest. Tibet.
Now he remembered where he’d been. Memories flooded into him as the dam inside his head burst.
He’d run miles through the snow in his bare feet, scaled dizzying heights without rope or gear, swum frozen rivers, carried burdens that would have crushed another man, fought hand-to-hand against men who could leap and somersault with superhuman ability, men whose hands, feet, knees, elbows, even their fingers were deadly weapons. He’d learned to live, even thrive, in the frigid climate and rarified air of the highest peaks.
But the most difficult thing he’d learned to do was control his mind. He’d learned to sharpen his focus to a needle point, setting aside all the horrors of war he’d witnessed, all the guilt he felt. He’d spent hours contemplating a single dust mote, a flake of snow, a whisper of wind. He had become more than he had ever been before.
Suddenly, he knew exactly where he was and what he had to do. He was in the Arena of Souls, where the greatest peril lay not in threats to his body, but to his mind. He sat down on the imagined grass if his grandfather’s lawn and focused his mind.
It was not easy. He felt the icy cold all around him, heard his friend’s voices, and fought the doubt that threatened to pull him back to unreality. Slowly, surely, he shut it all out, drawing his focus on the only thing that mattered: completing the task at hand. He gathered his strength and his will, and as he did, he pushed back against the oppressive cold. Warmth returned to his body, and clarity to his mind. With a forceful swipe of his hand, he pushed back the veil of deception and stood once again in the Arena of Souls.
Before him, Alex struggled to lift the heavier Moses off the ground and break the connection as Stone had done for him. His full strength now coursing through him, Stone swept Moses up, breaking the grip of the mist.
“My pappy,” Moses gasped, “I left him alone.”
“I know,” Stone said. “The mist plays with your mind. It takes your guilt and insecurities and cripples you with them.”
“What do we do?” Alex asked.
“I can’t teach you in a few minutes what it took me years to learn, but perhaps I can help you. Think about the very best thing about you– the thing that matters the most to those who care about you. Focus on it. Fill your mind with it and don’t let go. And while you’re at it, help keep away from the mist and help one another if you get caught up. Keep following the path. If you don’t catch up with me, I’ll come back for you. Just hold on. Don’t let it win.”
“Where are you going?” Alex asked.
“I’m headed for the center of the arena, but I’m going in through the back door.”